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Love and Loss
Sometimes living on the street when it was the dead of night and the middle of winter, I would roll over to find that the person asleep next to me was dead. They would freeze solid before morning, this would happen if you hadn’t found enough newspaper to cover yourself, if you had finally starved to death, if you overdosed on that cheap filthy s*** that passed in vagrant circles, or if you just gave up. I would lie awake there, in a nameless back alleyway cold, hungry, dirty, dying sooner than my time. Every breath I would take, the air from my lips would freeze in the air forming what I was taught to be my soul, trying to escape, to find a better life for itself, because I was here in this sickly body. If hell ever freezes over, New York would be its seventh circle.
The old man told me that I was born on a subway. He knew my mother and father, they were wonderful people he says. They became homeless before him and they took care of him when he did. Taught him to survive in this god awful hole of a city that would kill a man quicker than it would help him survive. He never told me why they weren’t around anymore, just that he took me in when I needed him.
He raised me in central park, we built a crude shelter in a small shoot of bamboo deep inside the park. Many times we hid from police, fought off rapists and murderers, and helped others in our predicament. He took me to the zoo once, we stole clothes from goodwill so we would blend in with the crowd somewhat better than with our normal daily attire with its holes and smell of defecation. I saw strange animals and the only thing I could think of is how they would taste compared to rat, dog, cat, pigeon, or the fish we caught in the park. The old man attempted to steal food from a vendor but was caught by a zoo guard and was taken away from me. I tried to chase after them but another guard picked me up, they took me to an orphanage.
When I arrived at the orphanage I noticed all the other children wore nice clothes. No holes, stains, horrendous odors or such things and I asked one boy why they wore clothes like that. “Because we’re not homeless pieces of s*** moron.” I didn’t know that I was considered homeless at the time so I merely said “Oh.” And continued on with my daily routine of escape. Few days passed when I did not try in some way to leave the orphanage. I didn’t mind living there, it was just too foreign and I missed the old man. Mistress Alexis though, she was less preferable to be around than the murderers and other dangerous folk in central park. She would wake us when the sun was still hidden in the sky and the moon had not fled like a criminal, handing us implements of cleanliness to scrub the orphanage until breakfast. Brushing stone is something I would not press upon another human, every day I scrubbed my section of stone floor and everyday it remained the same floor as the last. Until one day the old man appeared in the orphanages lobby and asked for me. Mistress Alexis found me scrubbing the stone and grabbed my hand in one of her claws, taking me down the stairs with strength surprising for her small frame. The old man ran to me as soon as I came into his sight and we embraced for a long moment. He said “I am this boy’s father and I am taking him home.”
“If you would provide the proper paperwork then sir.” Said Mistress Alexis. The old man jumped at the statement and said very keenly, “Mam that is a beautiful necklace you have.” She looked down at the blue stone hanging between her breasts, and in that moment the old man took my hand and ran out the door. We did not stop before we had made the long run to our bamboo shoot.
Years after the old man and I had waited for a month to show our faces in the sun I began to notice his deteriorating health. He would wake up in the stillness of night to cough outside our nest, the sound was of sandpaper against flesh. The next morning the fine spray of cough blood from the night before would be visible on the grass. Sometimes the old man would sleep all day and the night before he woke to ask for a shoe of water. So I would make my way to a local pond or creek and fill a children’s rain boot we used to drink from, skimming as much pond scum off the water as I could manage. One winter I was unsure if he would wake beside me the next morning, I would drink much water so I would wake in the night to urinate but before I did, I checked the old man’s heart and breath. So very weak, it hurt my heart.
When he finally did leave me forever I wrapped his body in bamboo and buried him. I used my hands and I worked two days and nights before I was satisfied no one would find him. He took me to church once, or at least what he called church and a holy man said “Praise be to Allah, in all your holiness.” So as I placed rock upon rock and tear upon tear on his grave I repeated the holy man, even though I knew the old man would go to heaven.
I left central park that day and eventually found my way to a small camp of drifters on the outskirts of town. I didn’t know anyone and many nights when I could not catch or scrounge up my own food I went hungry as there was no one willing to share. I soon became so emaciated that a doctor passing by my usual sleeping area picked me up and took me to a hospital.
My memory started to fulfill its duty a month or so after the kind Dr. Lopez took me into the hospital. I at first couldn’t keep down the processed food that was fed to me but with what Dr. Lopez called TLC, I grew strong and healthy. I met all the staff and patients on my floor and started to walk again. Dr. Lopez even brought me to his home in queens to eat with his family one night, sneaking me out of the hospital and back. The night after the dinner at Dr. Lopez’s house I overheard an argument between him and another doctor. “He needs more treatment, he doesn’t even have a place to stay for god’s sake!” said Dr. Lopez. The other doctor whispered something unintelligible and the two men walked away out of earshot.
I left the hospital that night when most of the staff had gone home. I didn’t know how to read, much less write so I left a flower I found growing on the side of the road in front of the hospital in Dr. Lopez’s locker. I was only wearing a gown and it was somewhere in the winter so I quickly made my way to central park. I was shivering uncontrollably when I found a dead hobo under a bridge. I worked quickly to take off the man’s clothes, they were too big for me but that was a plus. I looked next for a trashcan fire, the kind of fire which saves lives in this weather. I saw one soon enough and there was only a small girl standing in its soft loving glow. She wore clothes that I believed someone like me would wear, a heavy parka and pants too big for her. I looked at her across the fire, she didn’t look at me. I remained there until I was sure that I would keep my fingers and toes. When I was warm enough I said “Hi.” She didn’t respond.
“Hello, little girl.” I said somewhat louder. She looked up at me and I saw her eyes were red and puffed out.
“Are you alright?” I asked. She stared at me as if I were not real for the longest time. She began to cry and ran away into the dark. I immediately gave chase, I didn’t want her to get me caught by the park police and mostly be accused of rape or some disgusting crime. I caught her very quickly and held her down with my hand over her mouth. She began to cry much harder and I noticed scratch and bite marks all over her exposed body. I knew well enough from the old man’s lessons what rape looked like on children.
I whispered as soft as I could “Sshhh, I’m not going to hurt you little girl, please stop crying. We need to go back to the fire or we won’t make it until morning.” She managed to stop her tears and I let her up, taking her hand I led her back to the fire.
“What are you doing out here? Where are you parents? What’s your name?” She didn’t answer. I asked her questions all night, but not once did she speak.
The next morning I took the girl down to the same pond the old man had his last drink from to give her a bath and put cold mud on her deeper cuts. Her hair was blonde and she had blue eyes, the kind of blue eyes that look like they used to be just a plain blue orb but they had been shattered into a thousand shards of equally brilliant pieces. She stared at me the entire time, waiting for me to turn hostile. I endured the accusing stare for a little while then sat back and said “You need to stop looking at me like that, I swear to you that I will not hurt you.” I held out my hand for her to shake. She waited a minute but reached out to me from the pond and shook my hand. I continued to wash her and cover her cuts to the best of my ability. I looked in the pond and saw the old man cleaning a little girl.
It was about two weeks in my shoddy estimation that I discovered the whereabouts of the little girl’s parents. We had been walking through the park looking for something to eat when I came across some bones picked clean lying in a garbage can. The little girl reached in and pulled a piece of black fabric out. “Daddy.” Was all she said as she showed the cloth remnant to me. I knelt to the little girl, with tears in my eyes as I knew what it was to lose a father.
I said “That’s not your Dad.” She looked at me with a puzzled face and nodded as if to say, this is my dad.
I said “Your Mom and Dad are fine and one day you will see them again.” Seeing her take the death of at least her father with no emotion saddened me to a depth I only felt once.
I took the girl to the stone orphanage of my youth. I lied to the new mistress that the girl’s parents had put the little girl up for adoption due to their young age but could not give paperwork to show their credentials so they gave her to a foster family without going through the proper channels. The girl was abused by the family and put on the street where I found her and brought her here. The mistress most likely found my story somewhat fake but I think she saw the desperate look I believed to be in my eyes. I stooped down so I could be on eye level with the little girl “These people will take care of you.” That’s all I knew to say. She simply watched as I left the cold stone of the orphanage.
I found a small alleyway in the Bronx the day after I dropped the little girl off at the orphanage. A self-proclaimed hippie couple had already set up residence there but they were happy to have company. We would scavenge for scrap food together in trashcans and the back of restaurants. Some days I would get lucky and we could have a few rats or a stray house pet instead of almost finished garbage burgers infested with fly larvae. The woman had a beautiful singing voice and she would sing the man and me to sleep every night. I imagine my parents would be very much like these two lovers. Living on the street, and surviving as I do every day of my life. The couple was from California, they traveled across the entire country to meet a friend in New York during the sixties. On their arrival the friend was arrested and they had no money and no place to go. They simply decided to become homeless, they were somewhat used to living off the grid, they said. When summer came around I decided to go back to central park and spend a few days at his grave.
Sometime in June, I figure from my news blanket, I arrived at my old haunt in the park. His grave was still where I left it, the stones where somewhat weathered but untouched. For the first day I sat beside him, watching the pond of his last drink and the little girl’s first night. I didn’t want to leave his grave right then so I found a suitable hideaway to spend the nights out of sight from the police. I picked flowers, red, yellow, blue, and colors he had never taught me, to place on his grave. I told him about Dr. Lopez, the little girl, and the hippie couple I thought would be like my parents. He didn’t respond, but I didn’t think he would. And for awhile that was okay, staying by the pond and talking to him every day.
When winter started to blow its bitter wind I began to pack up my things. I said goodbye to him and said the holy man’s words. I planned to stay one more night and begin my journey back to the hippie couple. That night I woke abruptly, living on the street would instill a natural sense of danger in you as if you were an animal. I stood, listening to the surrounding area and I heard a giggling down by the pond. With as much stealth as I could muster, I crept down towards the sound of restrained laughter. I rounded a boulder overlooking the pond and observed a hunched figure, leaning over a small body. Most times I would stay far away from the murderers, but the body on the grass reminded me of someone and my heart began to panic. With more covertness than even before I managed to come up behind the snickering man and with all my strength I reached for his head and cracked it upon the ground with great force. I checked his pulse and breathing to be sure of his condition before turning my head to look at his prey. It was a little girl and her hair was blonde.
The next however long it was, I spent drunk. Stealing liquor and buying the nasty hobo potion that they fermented themselves just so I didn’t have to see what was in front of me. So I didn’t have to feel my heart dying, dying, dead. I stumbled into the orphanage one day, and I think the mistress told me the little girl ran away. “She was always drawing pictures of a man and a little girl beside a pond and a pile of rocks.” Lamented the mistress. I crawled back to the park to his grave and just sat beside him. I don’t know how long I waited there, buying more alcohol to attempt the nightly ritual of attempted suicide by alcohol poisoning.
When I stood before the judge in court he told me that I killed a police officer one night in central park. That officer was endeavoring to take me to a homeless shelter when in a drunken rage I broke a bottle of liquor over his face and drowned the man in a pool. They also found a skeleton buried under a pile of rocks close by and I was being accused of murder by the skeletons family. They checked his dental records and his name was Matthew Thompson. The Thompson family was in court, all of them crying and wailing about my dead father. The judge found me guilty of the policeman’s murder, due to the testimony of a homeless man convicted of a young girl’s murder. Her name was Taylor Rotay, she was thirteen years old. The judge could not be convinced of my interference in the death of Matthew Thompson, so with all facts in mind and lacking my defense in all proceedings. I was sentenced to twenty years in a medium security correctional facility.